Leadership in Education

What Kids Can Teach Us About Tinkercad And The Future Of 3D Printing

FLI glasses 3D Printing

Ritik Mehta during his visit to San Francisco in August this year. (Photo: Deepak Mehta)

Ask Ritik Mehta what he likes doing for fun, and he will give you an unlikely answer for a 14-year-old: laser cutting. At times, he actually comes across as a veteran startup founder who’s already navigated through a fair amount of failures and successes. “The most important thing I learned was that you should not be afraid to fail, and that you had to learn from your mistakes and move on,” he’s once told a crowd of youth at a TEDxYouth talk in Belgium, where he resides. Not many people his age can claim an association with a technology as emergent as 3D printing, a non-profit organization, and the phenomenal TEDx, all at once.

Mehta was ten years old when his father, Deepak Mehta, asked him if he wanted to attend a TEDxBrussels event on 3D printing and website hacking that sparked his passion for 3D design. He attended on a whim. Four years later, the teenager is working with Irixs to create commercial 3D glasses in order to fund nonprofit Eyes For The World in printing and distributing 3D glasses for needy children in places like Africa and Asia, while also teaching workshops to kids on how to use Tinkercad, a browser-based 3D design tool published by software giant Autodesk Inc.

3D printing may still be a maturing technology, but it’s already a part of the future. The global 3D printing market is estimated to reach $8.6 billion by 2020, according to a recent report by Allied Market Research. Experts found the surge in growth to be primarily due to rising demand for faster and more efficient ways to manufacture complex design objects using a wide array of materials. Autodesk ADSK +1.43%, in particular, has responded to this growth by investing in the democratization of the technology with products like Tinkercad.
“It was like a big difficulty in the beginning but by doing the tutorials, and my dad helping me, I actually learned it properly and got to know what I can do with this software,” said Ritik in a phone interview about Tinkercad’s drag and drop interface.

Deepak knew the underlying reason behind his son’s first 3D printing project—a blocky pair of glasses with his name on it—would allow Ritik to sympathize with other children in this area. He had seen Ritik’s disappointment in the short selection when he had to pick out his own first pair earlier that year. “In the end, these are kids, so if they don’t find [the glasses] nice to wear, even if you do the charity and give them the glasses, they may not even wear them,” said Deepak. “[Ritik] found a way to liberate himself from that. He would want other kids to have the same opportunity. Let me find something that I like to wear. That reflects my personality as well.”

Even with the advanced technology and empathy, Ritik and Eyes For The World faced much larger problems. Because they were dealing with countries with import restrictions, they had limited opportunities for reiteration. How could they avoid blindly importing thousands of glasses, hoping they would be the right prescription for frames that a child would actually want to wear?

A trifold solution that made the glasses virtually self-sustaining eventually surfaced. Eyes For The World started using Ad-spec glasses filled with silicone so opticians can easily remove or add silicon to alter the prescription. Secondly, the frames can be made out of local plastics like water bottles and plastic garbage using Filabot so that whenever children outgrow their glasses, they can simply recycle the glasses and print out new ones. And finally, Ritik had designed glasses with several different nose bridges, lengths, and frames that can be printed in customizable colors under the brand Irixs. Through the collaboration, children with the 3D printed glasses can furnish their own frames to sit comfortably on their noses whenever they’ve outgrown them.

Ritik Mehta at a TEDxKids Brussels event focused on 3D printing in 2011. (Photo: TEDxKids Brussels)

Ritik Mehta at a TEDxKids Brussels event focused on 3D printing in 2011. (Photo: TEDxKids Brussels)

While Deepak has provided Ritik with three 3D printers at home, guidance on various 3D design programs, and a Rolodex of experienced tech professionals, Ritik has overcome seemingly impossible obstacles when his father backed off.

“He would come up to me and say, ‘Well can I print this?’ And I would judge and say, “I don’t think this is printable,” said Deepak. “And at one given time, I kind of stopped saying that and told him, ‘Here’s the printer, go ahead.’ Then you figure out that by repetitive design iterations, he, in the end, finds a solution around his problems.” Deepak sees an advantage to Ritik’s age in being a role model for other children over adults. “If an adult tells a kid that this is the technology to come, it’s not that easily absorbed,” said Deepak. “If he can convince one more kid to take on this kind of a role, it is worth it.” Ritik currently demonstrates the low barrier to entry to 3D printing through Tinkercad to children as young as eight years old in his workshops.

“Because the technology’s nascent, nobody has the perfect insight into what it can and cannot do,” said Deepak. “That’s where I think a child’s mind is far more open to look at it in a different way than an adult because we kind of, in the last 20 years of adulthood, we’ve built our own preconceptions of what is and what is not possible, which this technology redefines.” As Ritik told his peers in Belgium: “You don’t need a printer. The only thing you need is an idea. Begin with 3D printing now. Now that your teacher does not tell you how to; now that there are no rules.”

by Rosa Trieu, Contributor Forbes
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